What’s in a name? Russia’s ‘Militsia’ makeover

Major reforms of Russia's police are coming into effect for the first time today - including a name-change, and it's hoped it will go far beyond pure cosmetics.

­It follows a series of high-profile scandals which saw public trust in the force sink to an all-time low.

The law enforcement officers are abandoning their Soviet-era name of 'militsia' in favor of the more worldly-recognizable 'police'.

For the government, it's the first step down a long road towards modernizing the service and arrest the sharp decline in public perception.

The people's trust of the 'boys in blue' has been dealt a huge blow in recent years. It's led to anxiety among officers, and outrage from those they're supposed to protect.

Incidents like the supermarket rampage by officer Yevsyukov, who opened fire on innocent shoppers, killing two and wounding seven have only helped intensify the situation. It was the final straw that fueled calls for reform.

But can changing their name bring about a change in behavior?

While some insist that ANY change is long overdue; for others, it's purely cosmetic.

“The very fact that there were so many accidents with police officers behaving illegally during the previous years in Russia, this very fact is not going to be changed by the law change, because these illegal practices contradict the previous legislations as well as the new one,” evaluates Boris Kagarlitsky, director of the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements. “The big question is whether there is the political will to really take it under control.”

The police themselves though, are preparing for the changes to come.

“A huge part of our ratings will depend on the people of this country, how they evaluate our performance,” police officers are grasping the essence of modernizing the force before their upcoming exams.

“Everyone will be tested. Physical abilities, knowledge of the new laws, civic duties – all those are included in the exams. There will be no indulgences for anyone. Either pass the test, or leave the force,” Ruslan Zaymintsev of Special Police Force, says.

Other changes are a mixed blessing: there will be a 20 per cent cut in personnel, but the remaining officers will get a pay raise.

There will be better screening of new recruits, with every detail of an applicants' background put under the microscope.

But until all that takes effect, officers have to knuckle down to the job at hand.

Restoring honor to Russia's police is a tough task – and the public are no push-over judges, but the force is determined to turn that around.

Re-examining staff, redesigning the uniforms – all those changes will take a lot of time to be fully implemented. But one of the first things to change to change will be signs like these, which will soon be changed to an internationally recognizable Police sign.